My Jimmy Butler pain started with Wayne Huizenga. This was March of 1998, five months to the day that Huizenga’s Marlins won Game 7 of the World Series. They beat a real team from a real city. Had no right but did it anyway.
Huizenga was the dean of South Florida sports. He had brought the expansion Marlins to the region in 1991, followed by an expansion NHL team, the Panthers, in 1993. The next year, Huizenga bought the Dolphins for close to $140 million. He owned Miami’s NFL, MLB and NHL teams, and in the fall of 1997 his Marlins became Miami’s first major champion since the ’73 Dolphins. For Halloween, the Tribune ran a sidebar on who various sports figures should dress up as; Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox owner, should be “Wayne Huizenga, World Series winner.”
But Huizenga was unhappy. He had, he said, spent $200 million on the team since its inception with nary a profit to show for it. In the middle of what was becoming a championship season, Huizenga announced that he would sell the club after the year. A World Series win didn’t change that. To ensure that the incoming ownership group wouldn’t be saddled with costs — he noted that the club had lost $34 million that year — Huizenga began unloading his highest paid players. The White Sox hadn’t won the World Series since 1917, the Cubs since 1908. Chicago’s most recent World Series appearance to that point was four decades earlier.
And here was this fifth-year upstart club from Miami fortunate enough to buy their way to a World Series championship (the ’97 Marlins had MLB’s 7th highest payroll at $47.7 million) that was now giving it all away. By the time my brother and I were in Miami that March, my sophomore year of high school, visiting our grandparents, Huizenga had jettisoned the team’s leader in home runs and RBI (Moises Alou), its ace (Kevin Brown), closer (Robb Nen) and Game 7 starter (Al Leiter), its 1st baseman from Opening Day (Jeff Conine) and Game 7 (Darren Daulton) and its starting center fielder (Devon White).
So they got a ring, I thought one day as we drove past Pro Player Stadium, the ballpark where just five months earlier Edgar Renteria had knocked in Craig Counsell to win the World Series in the 11th inning of Game 7. So what. Their heroes are gone. Their team is dead.
They’ll never have what we have.Continue reading “The real sports town: Jimmy Butler and Miami”